I’ve always liked the idea of hopping on the Eurostar from London, one Friday night after work, and heading over to the continent for the weekend but sadly budget constraints have never allowed me to do it. It doesn’t have to be expensive if you organise your trip in advance and look for deals but, lets face it, I’m generally not that prepared. You can therefore imagine my delight when The Flatmate was able to get complimentary tickets to Brussels from work and invited me along for the ride.
Travelling on a budget means that I have always been confined to the realms of Economy / Standard class on transport. It’s always been fine but on this occasion I was to travel Standard Premier on the way out and Business Premier on the way back. I was excited.
On the way out, there was no special lounge or allowances for Standard Premier but the Eurostar lounge at St Pancras International station is pretty nice anyway. Besides, I’d already stopped off at Le Pain Quotidien in the main station for a cream tea so I was already full and content. The only problem was the lack of tourist maps for Brussels on offer. Apparently they only had them for Paris. I had been relying on getting a map en route so I stupidly didn’t look up the location of the station I was arriving into or where my hotel was. More fool me – I told you I’m not the prepared kind. At least there were plenty of power sockets to charge my waning phone battery – really that was the most important thing.
When I got on the train, the bonuses of Standard Premier began. The seats were cosier than I was used to, with more space and dinner also included, along with a little bottle of wine and a couple of hot drinks. I had two cold options for my light meal, a cheese-based one or roast beef. I went for beef with a kind of spiced coleslaw. I could also choose from red, white or rosé for my wine (that’s the only wine differentiation I actually know anyway). I went for rosé. It was all delicious. I finished it off with a cup of regular breakfast tea and then a cup of green tea. I know, two cups of tea – fancy.
The ride was smooth, with only a couple of stops in Calais and Lille, and two hours later and we arrived in Belgium. It would have been all but perfect if the socket next to my seat – or any of the ones around my chair – had been working. I had downloaded things to watch on iPlayer but I couldn’t risk my battery dying before I reached my hotel room, just in case I needed an emergency Google in order to actually find it. Thankfully, I had brought reading materials in the form of Vanity Fair so all was well.
On the way back, the Business Lounge in Brussels Zuid/Midi station was closed for refurbishment. Typical. I was still able to pick up free magazines, newspapers and drinks in the main area so I didn’t completely miss out on the pre-travel perks of Business class.
The train seats were the same as those in Standard Premier and the food was similar but more plentiful. Although, this time, I also had some nibbles and a drink before lunch was served. Sadly, being the Sunday morning after the one night I’d had to enjoy Brussels, I was in a slightly worse-for-wear state and I couldn’t bring myself to take up the offer of champagne and settled for some orange juice instead. Wine with my meal was also off limits. Considering the fact that my palette isn’t all that refined at the best of times, I probably wouldn’t have been the best judge as to the quality of the champagne anyway, but I can say the orange juice was nice.
The meal options were cold beef (again) or hot fish, both courtesy of Raymond Blanc. I went with beef again. This time it came with a bean/olive/red pepper combo and it was actually better than the last one – certainly it won the title of the best food I have ever had on public transport. I was also served a starter this time which I particularly appreciated since it was smoked salmon – one of my favourites – and instead of a cup of green tea I was served a whole pot. The staff were even more attentive here. After another smooth ride, I think that the Eurostar may have ruined me for standard travel: I had been rather spoiled.
Since I wrote this, I have travelled on the Eurostar again. This time to Paris. As I was footing the bill for this journey myself, I travelled standard class. Obviously without the free food and alcohol and the fancier chairs, the experience wasn’t the same. But it was still a comfortable, smooth and efficient journey.